Climate Impacts Research Consortium
Mission & Vision
The Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC) is a research organization funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide policy makers, resource managers, and fellow researchers with the best available science covering the changing climate of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana.
CIRC strives to provide not only the best available science on the Northwest’s changing climate, we also work hard to put that research in the hands of our Northwest stakeholders as they begin adapting to climate change.
CIRC researchers include climate scientists at Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, the University of Washington, and the University of Idaho. Our researchers present their findings in academic journals, regional and national climate assessment reports, and in meetings and workshops with Northwest stakeholders.
At CIRC, we let both scientific curiosity and social need drive our research. However, we recognize the end goal of our research—from data to climate assessments—is its application by resource managers, policy makers, and other climate researchers. By working with our stakeholders via existing social networks and knitting together new ones through outreach, CIRC crafts inclusive, applied research that demonstrates not only the best available climate science but also reflects the diversity of voices and concerns, planning, and resource management needs our Northwest stakeholders have surrounding climate change. By providing access to datasets and user-friendly interfaces we aid city, state, and regional policy makers and resource managers in formulating decisions related to landscape and watershed management across the Northwest.
See descriptions of current CIRC projects. Learn more about CIRC's most recent activities.
How We Work
Knowledge to Action Networks: CIRC has built, and continues to build, collaborative teams composed of researchers and stakeholders who co-produce research together. We call these teams our Knowledge to Action Networks. The goal of CIRC’s Knowledge to Action Networks is to keep our research relevant to our stakeholders, who will ultimately put the project’s results to work.
Envision: Synthesizing the results of our Knowledge to Action Networks is the next step. Here, CIRC recognizes social agents make decisions for reasons as varied as the research they’ve read to their personal beliefs. To grapple with the complexity of how decisions get made, CIRC has been employing a multi-agent scenario-modeling, computer program called Envision. Developed by CIRC researcher John Bolte, Envision provides a framework for examining and simulating—from the individual to the policy level—the complex interactions and feedbacks of human decision-making. But Envision does much more. Envision allows for what are called futures scenarios. In these scenarios, researchers and stakeholders can envision possible “futures” that trace projected climate change scenarios into the future. Futures can represent everything from different emission scenarios to how land-use and other policy and management decisions might affect resources or mitigate hazards. Envision is currently employed on three CIRC projects: Willamette Water 2100, Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures, and Envision Tillamook County Coastal Futures.
Integrated Scenarios: At CIRC, we recognize the range of climate change research available. We also understand that to accurately model our possible climate paths, it’s necessary to integrate that research. We call this approach Integrated Scenarios. The philosophy behind Integrated Scenarios is simple enough: keep everyone on the same page. CIRC did this with its recent project Integrated Scenarios of the Future Northwest Environment, which integrated climate, hydrologic, and vegetation models in an effort to project future climate scenarios for the Northwest.
Assessment and Outreach: CIRC recognizes it’s not enough do the research, it’s also necessary to communicate our finding to our stakeholders and the general public. With that in mind, CIRC staff regularly meets with Northwest stakeholders through our Knowledge to Action Networks to discuss our research.
CIRC staff and researchers have also been instrumental in the publication of three climate assessment reports summarizing the latest climate science available for the Northwest: The Northwest chapter of the Third US National Climate Assessment; Climate Change in the Northwest: implications for Our Landscapes, Water, and Communities; and the Oregon Climate Assessment Report.
• Integrated Scenarios of the Future Northwest Environment:
Jointly funded by the Northwest Climate Science Center, this project evaluated the performance of 41 global climate models for the Pacific Northwest, downscaled a subset of them, and produced coordinated simulations of hydrology and vegetation for the region. The project’s data has been made available to the public. More on this project
• Gridded Set of Historical Meteorological Data: This project produced a spatially and temporally complete, high-resolution (4-kilometer) gridded dataset of surface meteorological variables required in ecological modeling for the contiguous United States from 1979—2012 and continuing. The data was instrumental for the development of the Integrated Scenarios project. More on this project
• Willamette Water 2100: Primarily funded by National Science Foundation, this project uses the agent-based modeling platform Envision to evaluate how climate change, population and economic growth will alter the availability and the use of water in Oregon’s Willamette River Basin. The basin is home to the majority of Oregon’s population and agricultural production. More on this project
• Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures: A CIRC-only effort, this project explores interactions among agriculture, urban land use practices, and recreational activities under future conditions of climate and water supply in the Big Wood Basin of central Idaho. The project employs the Envision agent-based modeling platform. We work closely with stakeholders to ensure that research is delivered in a usable form for public and private decision makers. More on this project
• Envision Tillamook County Coastal Futures: This project focuses on coastal flooding and erosion in the rural, coastal Oregon setting of Tillamook County. As with Big Wood and Willamette Water 2100, this project employs the Envision agent-based modeling platform. Working with Oregon Sea Grant and Tillamook County stakeholders, CIRC is developing the information and tools area residents and policy makers need to both assess the impacts of coastal hazards and to initiate adaptation strategies to those hazards. More on this project
• Law of the River: CIRC researcher Adell Amos, associate dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, submitted an article to the Kansas Law Review about federal and state water law and policy as they pertain to water scarcity in the Willamette River Basin. More on this project
• National and Regional Climate Assessments: CIRC Principal Investigator (PI) Philip Mote was a member of the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee (NCADAC), acting as a co-lead author of the Third National Climate Assessment‘s Northwest chapter. CIRC PI David Hulse served on the report’s Land Use and Land Cover Change chapter. PI Mote, along with CIRC’s Meghan Dalton and Amy Snover from the University of Washington, also co-edited a 230-page regional report, Climate Change in the Northwest – Implications for Our Landscapes, Waters, and Communities. The report was published by Island Press.
• Piloting Utility Modeling Applications (PUMA): CIRC participates in the national PUMA effort involving 5 large municipal water utilities. CIRC has also partnered with water utilities in Portland and Seattle to (1) provide specific statistical downscaling for their watersheds; (2) increase their in-house capacity for hydrologic modeling; and (3) answer a set of detailed climate questions. More on this project
• Coping with Drought: This effort is funded primarily by the National Integrated Drought Information System. Former CIRC researcher Dennis Lettenmaier, now at the University of California, Los Angeles, has extended the University of Washington drought monitoring and prediction system for Washington state to the entire Pacific Northwest plus California. This capability was very useful during the 2013-14 drought that affected California and the Pacific Northwest. As part of an outreach effort during the 2014 drought, CIRC and the Oregon Climate Service provided a series of updates on precipitation conditions in the Northwest to regional resource managers and policy makers.
• Coupling Surface Water and Groundwater Models in Idaho: One of the significant gaps in hydrologic knowledge in the region is the interaction of surface water and groundwater, which is especially important in the Snake River basin. This project coupled the VIC and MODFLOW models and performed simulations with past and future climate. More on this project
• Hydrologic Sensitivity Analysis: Building on earlier cross-RISA work in the Colorado River Basin, which was the cover story in the January 2014 edition of Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), this research used a hydrologic model to estimate the climate response at over 200 stream gauge locations. More on this project
Climate Adaptation Partnerships
• North Coast Climate Adaptation: In late 2013, with support from Oregon State University Extension Service, CIRC partnered with Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development on the North Coast Climate Adaptation project. Working with federal, state and local decision makers, the project’s objective is to prioritize the 11 climate risks identified in the Oregon Adaptation Framework for the northern Oregon Coast. The project is employing the collective knowledge of community stakeholders, landscape managers, and university researchers to identify priority climate risks for the North Coast and to management responses that will build resilience to climate change. More on this project
• Extension: A close partnership with Oregon State University Extension Service (OSU Extension) and Oregon Sea Grant (OSG) has been critical to CIRC’s efforts to develop user-driven research. OSU Extension and OSG have supported a Regional Extension Climate Specialist at CIRC to support several of our projects, including: Big Wood Alternative Futures, Envision Tillamook County Coastal Futures, Willamette Water 2100, and the North Coast Alignment Project. CIRC has also helped develop climate science training for extension practitioners. This has included a partnership with the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals. More on this effort
• U.S. Forest Service Adaptation Partnerships: Building on earlier U.S. Forest Service (USFS) work in western Washington, CIRC worked with USFS on two projects: the Northern Rockies Adaptation Partnership and the Blue Mountains Adaptation Partnership. The goal of these projects was to (1) increase the institutional capacity of Pacific Northwest public land managers to adapt current management practices to regional climate change; (2) transfer knowledge gained from successful partnerships to a wider audience; and (3) facilitate an ongoing dialogue about climate change. More on these projects
• State, County, and Municipal Adaptation Partnerships: CIRC has worked closely with several state, county, and municipal governments to develop climate change adaptation strategies at the local level. This has resulted in the passage of two adaptation plans: 1) for the City of Portland, Oregon, and 2) for Benton County, Oregon. CIRC was also instrumental in writing a chapter on climate change for the Oregon Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan. This and an adaptation strategy CIRC helped draft for Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, are currently awaiting final approval.
• Tribal Cultural Dimensions of Climate Change: A Northwest Climate Science Center-funded postdoc interviewed elders from three Northwest tribes to determine cultural impacts of climate change; CIRC is providing funding to continue the work when the NW CSC funding ends. More on this project
• Communications: CIRC produces a monthly newsletter, The Climate CIRCulator, which reaches over 1700 subscribers and provides readable summaries of recent articles on climate science. CIRC maintains a blog. In coordination with the Northwest Climate Science Center, tweets regularly, and has contributed to the establishment and continued success of the Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference. (PI Mote was lead organizer of the 2013 conference and has been on the organizing committee every year.) The conference was highly rated by attendees, roughly 35% of who were natural resource managers and others outside academia, for the quality and comprehensibility of presentations. CIRC is in the process of creating a semiannual, magazine-style newsletter in conjunction with the Northwest Climate Science Center and the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
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